Domaine de la Romanée-Conti 2009
Aubert de Villaine was in New York two weeks ago to a host tasting of the 2009 vintage from Domaine de la Romanée-Conti. It’s an annual event organized by DRC’s longtime U.S. importer, Wilson Daniels, and I’ve now had the pleasure of attending it twice. Truth be told, I would have traveled the two hours that it took me to get to New York even if there’d been no wines to taste; merely having the pleasure of de Villaine’s company would have sufficed. He is a remarkable man, whose wisdom about Burgundy, wine, and much else is immense. Back in 2009, I had the opportunity to spend a few days with him in Burgundy, and of all the experiences I’ve had as a wine writer, it’s the one I most cherish.
Around 40 people were on hand for the tasting, a mix of sommeliers, retailers, distributors, auctioneers, and journalists. De Villaine made some introductory remarks before we put our palates to work. He seemed delighted with the 2009 vintage, comparing it to 1959. Bud break came early, as is the norm these days. There was a lot of humidity in April, May, and June, which brought the threat of mildew. August was a scorcher, with drought conditions at points. The dry conditions persisted into September, although temperatures moderated.
The domaine began harvesting in Corton on September 10th, and in Vosne-Romanée on the 13th. The Montrachet vineyard was picked two days later. According to de Villaine, the yields in 2009 averaged 30 hectoliters per hectare, which he described as “a very nice crop.” It was a vintage with small clusters and small berries, too, which meant very concentrated fruit. “They were the best grapes we had seen since 2005,” he said, and the resulting wines were characterized, in his words, by “tenderness, immediacy, and seduction.” He returned to the 1959 analogy, telling us he’d never before experienced a year that came so close to mirroring that celebrated vintage. He said 1959 “gave a smile to the vignerons, and to the consumers—there was good quantity, and the wines were so pleasant from the beginning and for many years afterwards.”
After we’d tasted the wines, de Villaine shared some news: beginning with the 2009 vintage, DRC is no longer making supersized bottles; it’s now just 750mls and magnums. He said the domaine had noted that larger bottles tended to end up on the auction market, and to the extent that it can, DRC wants to discourage speculation. This led to a brief discussion of the counterfeiting issue, which has lately put DRC in the spotlight. De Villaine said the domaine has been urging restaurants to smash empty bottles of DRC or to at least mark them in some way, and it has also taken other, undisclosed steps to combat fraud. But he went on to say that he was reluctant to “feed the paranoia” that has sprung up around this issue; he told us that people have visited DRC with bottles they were convinced were fakes but that turned out to be fine.
This year’s tasting marked the debut of an addition to the DRC stable, a Corton. In November 2008, DRC acquired vines in three climats of the grand cru Corton appellation, Clos du Roi, Les Renardes, and Les Bressandes, and it made its first wine from those sites in 2009. De Villaine said they hope to eventually bottle the three sites separately but that there aren’t enough old vines at this point to do so. He is confident DRC can make “very great wine” in Corton but said it would take 20 years to maximize the potential of the vineyards. They vinified the Corton the same way they do the Côte de Nuits reds but used only 50 percent new oak because they didn’t feel it could absorb the wood as well as the Vosne-Romanée wines, which saw virtually100 percent.
So how were the wines? In a word, spectacular. The tasting was a reminder of why it is good to check your preconceptions at the door. There has been a lot of talk about the ripeness of the 2009 vintage in Burgundy, and it seemed many people expected the wines to be kind of plump and amorphous—not a vintage for Burgundy purists. In fact, though, the wines, while certainly ripe, had ample freshness, minerality, and grip; they are precocious but have the stuffing to age beautifully. They are not quite at the same level as the domaine’s 2005s or 1999s, but it is a great vintage for DRC, and it would be treat to own any of the wines. It was a treat just to taste them. Drinking DRC, the writer Roald Dahl once said, was like “having an orgasm in the mouth and the nose at the same time.” I suspect Dahl would have keeled over in ecstasy during this tasting.
Here, then, my (G-rated) tasting notes:
2009 Vosne-Romanée 1er Cru: The sixth time that DRC has produced this cuvée since 1999, and the 2009 edition is a gem. It is a medium-weight, succulent wine with ripe dark berries, a winsome floral aspect, and a pinch of spice. Excellent balance and length, and while it doesn’t have the gravitas of the grands crus, it is nevertheless superb. If only all entry-level wines could be this good. A-.
2009 Corton: A slight sternness to the nose—oddly, the word “Calvinist” sprang to mind (too much Rick Santorum on my television?)—with soil and stem notes dominating. Don’t let the austere aromatics deter you: this is a joy to drink. Sinewy, with great vigor and structure and a nice kick of saline minerality. There’s abundant fruit, but it plays a supporting role to the savory aspects. This is one impressive debut–like a rookie hitting a home run in his first at-bat. A-/A.
2009 Échézeaux: A somewhat dusty bouquet, with raspberry, earth, floral, and sandalwood aromas. Taut on the palate, with crisp berry fruit and sensational minerality and concentration. Impeccably proportioned, too. The Échézeaux doesn’t exude as much personality as the other wines, but that may just be a function of youth. It is, at any rate, a delicious wine. A-.
2009 Grands-Échézeaux: Broad-shouldered, and showing a little disjointed at the moment. Sappy dark fruit, robust but ripe tannins, and a heady wintergreen note across the palate. As with the Corton, there is a distinct savory edge to the Grands-Échézeaux, which I like very much. The toughest wine to taste this morning, but all the elements appear to be in place for a long and rewarding life. A-.
2009 Romanée-St-Vivant: An ambrosial scent of berries and flowers floats up from the glass, along with suggestions of anise and stone. The flavors here are so delicate but so deep—if you prize subtlety and gentle persuasion, this is your wine. Some words from my notebook: lithe, seamless, ethereal. Once a laggard in the DRC cellar, the RSV has been steadily improving, and they hit pay dirt with the strikingly beautiful 2009. A+.
Richebourg 2009: while the RSV is all about discreet charm, the Richebourg is ready to play and eager to please—it is such an effusive wine I half-expected it to jump out of the glass and into my lap. Cassis, spice, soy, and a touch of cured meat on the nose. A rich, muscular wine, but with great freshness and length and a terrific stony mineral note. I adore the tannins on this one, too—they are big but perfectly ripe and integrated. A knockout. A.
2009 La Tâche: The La Tâche takes the complexity and finesse to another universe. A come-hither nose evocative of cherries, rose petals, earth, and exotic spice—this is such a seductively perfumed wine that it could double as a love potion. The La Tâche builds in depth and dimension as it unfurls in the mouth, but what buckles the knees is the sensuality and harmoniousness of the flavors. With the wine’s velvety tannins and subtle acidity, you could almost say the structure is seen but not heard. The finish has no finish—it just goes on and on. Brilliant. A+.
2009 Romanée-Conti: A kaleidoscopic bouquet redolent of cassis, sandalwood, flowers, soy, earth, and wintergreen. The purity of the fruit is amazing, but what really stands out here is the silken texture, the aura of completeness, and the poise. As ever with this wine in its infancy, there is a brooding aspect—a sense that something is behind kept in reserve, that there are (forgive the cliché) hidden depths. The RC has the most regal bearing of any wine I know, and my impulse is simply to genuflect. A+.
2009 Montrachet: A lemon verbena aroma soars out of the glass, along with a bracing mineral scent and some vanilla and white pepper. Medium-bodied—svelte, even— with racy citrus and white fruit flavors and brisk acidity. This is very young and inchoate, but it is already such bliss to drink. I love the marzipan note on the finish, whose persistence is measured in minutes, not seconds. If I ever hit it big in the lottery, the DRC Montrachet is going to be my house white, and yes, you’re all invited over. A+.